Proposals That Could Have Softened the Blow for the Most Vulnerable New Mexicans Were Never Heard

The most notable thing about the recently finished 60-day legislative session is not what was signed or not signed by the Governor.  It was also not what passed and didn’t pass.  Much more interesting are the bills that were never even given a fair hearing. Most—if not all—of the bills that would have raised revenues to share the pain of the current fiscal crisis were never allowed to come to a full vote in either chamber.

One of the main reasons, of course, is that the Governor and many legislators were squarely against any new revenue measures. Whether those measures included closing loopholes on out-of-state corporations, making out-of-state Internet retailers pay the same taxes local businesses pay, or just scaling back subsidies to certain special interests, anything that could be construed as a “tax” was dead on arrival.

What’s more, even revenue proposals that did not increase any taxes were also D.O.A. Representative Jim Trujillo of Santa Fe sponsored a joint resolution to make permanent an additional roughly $80 million payment from the Land Grant Permanent Fund for our kids’ education. The proposal would have gone to the voters in next year’s general election, and would have helped reduce pressure for more cuts to our public schools. The measure failed on a tie vote on the House floor.

A similar, though more substantial measure—SJR 10 sponsored by Senator Cynthia Nava of Las Cruces, and co-sponsored by 13 others including Senate Majority Leader Michael Sanchez—would have allowed voters to decide whether to use a fraction of the Permanent Fund to pay for early childhood education and to help reduce cuts to public education. SJR10 easily passed the Senate Rules and Senate Judiciary Committees and then died without a hearing like most other revenue measures.

What bills didn’t die? Every conceivable tax break and subsidy, from a locomotive fuel tax break for BNSF, to a hydrogen fuel tax break for an unknown company, to an additional $5 million for the state’s already generous Job Training Incentive Program. The one exception was the film industry—the only incentive the Governor decided to target and limit.

Many—if not most—Democratic legislators were against additional cuts to education, health care, and other basic community services.  So if the Republicans couldn’t stomach raising taxes on the rich or making out-of-state corporations pay their fair share, and most Democrats couldn’t stomach deeper cuts, how about borrowing some money to get through the current fiscal crisis? That’s what SB 1, sponsored by Senator Michael Sanchez, would have done.  It would have allowed the state to borrow money for a couple of years and pay it back with gross receipts tax revenues, allowing the state to avoid deeper cuts to education and public safety without any new taxes. But like most everything else that wasn’t a tax break or a cut to public services—it was D.O.A.

How is it that several viable alternatives to cutting education or other basic services were never given serious consideration? How is it that in the midst of the worst budget crisis since the Great Depression lawmakers are still approving more and more tax breaks?

As the Governor and some legislators pat themselves on the back for passing a “balanced” budget, the question should be, is it really balanced?  Maybe the numbers add up but the weight of the cuts fell disproportionately on kids, working families, teachers, retirees, the disabled, and the poor. The rich and out-of-state corporations were once again completely protected. New Mexico can do better. In fact, New Mexico must do better if we are to have a brighter future for everyone – not just millionaires and big corporations.

Eric Griego is Executive Director of NM Voices for Children